8 Mar 2012

Istanbul: the London 2012 dress rehearsal

Channel 4 News Sports Reporter Keme Nzerem is in Istanbul to report on how Team GB is looking, ahead of London’s Olympics this summer.

Keme Nzerem meets Britain's head athletic coach Charles van Commennee

Istanbul. The city where east meets west will this weekend broaden its horizons still further. For it hosts north and south too, as the world’s finest athletes descend for a dress rehearsal of the summer Olympics.

Kenyans, Jamaicans, Chinese, Russians – and of course Brits, are all stretching the winter fug out of their limbs to see who can run, jump and throw the furthest.

1,299 athletes from 172 countries make 2012’s World Indoor Athletics Championships the biggest indoor games since the event began in 1985.

Britain expects

So what then of the British hopefuls? It is a mixed picture. Indeed team GB’s famously direct head athletics coach Charles van Commennee (pictured above) is refusing to publicly predict a medal haul.

Time is fast running out to get on those Olympic blocks knowing you are number 1

Targets are of course fraught with the potential to disappoint in the Beijing Olympics, British track and field athletes returned with a miserable 4 medals; while at the outdoor world championships in Daegu, South Korea last summer they hit their tally of 7.

Let’s start with the pentathlon. For Jessica Ennis this means competing as she will do in London as a genuine contender, but not neccessarily as favourite. That honour (or is it a burden?) belongs to Russian Tatyana Chernova, who beat Ennis in the outdoor version of the event the heptathlon in Daegu last summer.

Take the other face of 2012 – distance runner Mo Farah. He’s world champion at 5k, silver medalist at 10k, but recently beaten on the winter indoor circuit over the shorter distance of 2 miles. He competes here in Istanbul not at either of his favoured distances of 5 or 10k – but 3k.

Which equates to more or less 2 miles… He blamed that recent defeat on ‘heavy legs’ and there was speculation he might not come to Istanbul. But being here is as much about testing yourself as gaining a crucial psychological advantage over your opponents and time is fast running out to get on those Olympic blocks knowing you are number 1.

Gallery: the best pictures from the 13th World Athletics Championships in South Korea

And don’t forget the elder statesman of UK track and field, who would be the face of London 2012 if only he hadn’t accepted the doper’s needle when he was still young.

Dwain Chambers is the reigning indoor 60m world champion, and defends his title with a chance – albeit slim – of returning to London with another medal round his neck.

But while here in Istanbul, where the muezzin rouses all from their sleep, Mr Chambers may be issuing his own call to prayer now that his doping purdah will soon be over – and his lifetime Olympics ban will be overturned.


On Monday – the very day Chambers and team fly back – the British Olympic Association begins its legal battle to retain the right to refuse to pick any athletes who have willingly taken performance enhancing drugs.

Chambers might find himself world champion – again – and controversially eligible to compete at his home Olympics.

Just 3 athletes with their own tribulations, their own stories, their own hopes. All of them with one target. To come first.

Istanbul in March is in fact much like home. It’s cold, often rainy, and the sun is just starting to rise high enough in the sky to take the chill out of the morning air. Not such a bad prologue to a certain sports event coming to London this summer.

In pictures: London 2012 official posters, including works by Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin